Understanding and improving families’ experiences of complaints and disputes in the coronial context

Ms Naomi Burstyner1

1Monash University, Australia

In recent years a growing empirical evidence base has explored how the family members of deceased persons experience coronial processes. This research has identified that families often report difficulties associated with a lack of communication or sufficient information, delays, misunderstandings of their role in inquests, a sense of power imbalance or frustration about wording of coroners’ findings which become a ‘final record’ of how their loved one died.  These difficulties are compounded by the grief that families experience, which is often amplified by trauma, stigma, shame and confusion (Kaufman, 2011).

In some cases, families make complaints or dispute decisions or findings made by coroners. Complaints or disputes can range from a complaint that a pathologist’s report stated the wrong eye colour of the deceased (common, due to colour changes after death) to requests for independent review of coroners’ findings. To date there has been little research attention to handling of coronial complaints and disputes, and whether these mechanisms could be improved.

The well-established literatures on dispute resolution, therapeutic jurisprudence and complaints handling have strong potential to provide insight about complaints and disputes in the coronial context. In particular, this research explores what disputants and complaints handlers are seeking to achieve in these processes, but there has been little application in coronial contexts.

This presentation explores the application of dispute resolution and complaints handling research to the coronial context. It generates new insights that may improve families’ experiences of complaints and disputes in the setting of coronial investigations and processes.


Naomi is legally qualified and an accredited mediator under the National Mediation Accreditation System (NMAS) as well as a qualified Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner. She is a lecturer in the postgraduate Faculty of Law at Monash University, teaching two NMAS accredited mediation units since 2013. (Other lecturing experience includes units in the fields of negotiation skills and dispute resolution advocacy).

Naomi is currently undertaking her PhD in law at Monash University, exploring the experiences of families and others involved in coronial investigations, with a focus on how therapeutic jurisprudence and other dispute resolution mechanisms might assist. She has published several articles on aspects of health law (regulation of brain stimulation), teaching negotiation, mediator ethics and on various aspects of justice innovation and access to justice including ADR and the effectiveness of aspects of the justice system as well as consumer vulnerability

Naomi has researched extensively in the area of access to justice and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) at Monash University and is particularly interested in how the law applies to aspects of forensic medicine and how dispute resolution can be used in this context.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts/Laws, (Monash University 2001) and a Masters of Law, (Melbourne University 2011).

Naomi regularly coaches students in NMAS mediation courses (for Resolution Institute as well as Relationships Australia Victoria). She has also coached students participating in the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Mediation Competition in Paris for the past five years, and has also participated as a judge for the Asia Pacific ICC Mediation Competition.

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